Why Grow Food in Your School Grounds: Outdoor Learning and Play


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Why Grow Food in Your School Grounds: Outdoor Learning and Play

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Why Grow Food in Your School Grounds: Outdoor Learning and Play

  1. 1. outlook • MAY 2007 groundnotes September 2007 Schoolgrounds-UK ● Although strawberries can be bought cheaply as young plants and fruit in their first year, many other types of fruit are a longer-term, and more expensive, investment. Generally speaking, the larger the plant grows, the longer you will have to wait before it starts to fruit, so be prepared to wait a few years if you are planting young apple trees. Children who are reluctant to eat many vegetables may be more willing to eat fruit, especially if cooked in a pie! ● Herbs can be a new taste sensation for many children and they are decorative, generally pest-free and usually easy to grow. There are lots to choose from: mint is best grown in containers if you don’t want it rampaging through your garden; chives produce pretty flowers if left uncut; fennel grows into tall, dramatic, feathery plants. ● Ornamental flowers don’t just make the garden look pretty, by attracting helpful insects or birds they help keep the pests down. This organic approach to pest control is called companion planting. For example, marigolds attract hoverflies who feed on aphids. Some companion plants are themselves crops – broad beans and fennel attract beneficial insects and mint and garlic can repel pests by smell. Some flowers A year of food in are also edible, like nasturtiums, but make sure children understand they your school grounds shouldn’t eat flowers unless they are sure they are safe. When choosing your plants you can Why grow food in your What to grow think in themes. You might want to choose school grounds? Food gardens can feature vegetables, varieties which are local to your area, or There is probably more interest now in fruit, herbs and ornamental plants. locate those that originate from parts of food growing projects that at any time ● Most vegetables can be grown from the world relevant to the children in since the Dig for Victory gardens of the seed in one year, making them a good your school. Second World War. This is not surprising introduction to a plant’s life-cycle. The when the topic of food growing supports choice of vegetables depends on your so many school priorities. growing conditions and what children ● Curriculum: food growing links to every like to eat: subject and provides practical relevance – Carrots are popular with most and memorable learning. children, look decorative while ● Health: children who grow food crops growing, and are a good example of are more willing to eat fruit and how vegetables taste best when fresh. vegetables, helping to address concerns – Potatoes are easy to grow, including in with healthy eating and obesity. containers, and can be timed to Planting and tending crops provides harvest outside school holidays. exercise and can be the start of a lifelong – Tomatoes have a high success rate healthy pastime. from seed but do need looking after ● Citizenship: food growing introduces over the summer holidays. You need issues such as organic growing, food to choose the variety carefully if miles and fair trade. you want to harvest them during term-time. LEARNING THROUGH LANDSCAPES
  2. 2. groundnotes • SEPTEMBER 2007 Winter: planning time Winter is the time for planning a new food garden, or how to improve your existing one. Location If you don’t already have a food garden, then start by looking at your whole school site, to ensure that you choose the right location. Things to consider include: ● How is the site already used? What areas already have activities taking place that you don’t want to compete with? For example, locating your vegetable patch next to where ball games are played will lead to lots of squashed plants. Look at how users circulate around the site to make sure you don’t create a garden just where people are used to walking through. It might be easier to choose a different location than to get people used to taking a different route. ● Where will be convenient for people using the garden? If you hope that the school kitchen will be using crops from the garden, can you locate the garden near the kitchen? In particular, growing herbs just outside the kitchen door makes it easy for the cooks to include ● How will you decide on a price? Price fresh flavours grown by pupils. IfAutumn: harvest time growing activities will take place mostly research can be as simple orCelebrating sophisticated as appropriate for your during lesson times, do you want to The start of the school year coincides pupils. You could look at competitors as have the garden just outside a classroomwith the end of the growing year for many a bench mark, calculate the costs of for easy access, or out of sight if you arefood crops. The traditional way to mark this production and add on a mark-up for worried about distractions and noise? Ifseason is with harvest festivals. Use this as a profit, or carry out market research, the garden will be tended by volunteersstarting point to compare harvest festival surveying potential customers to find during the holidays, make sure theytraditions from different cultures – the out what they think is reasonable. You have access. If possible, locate it near aAustralian website might want to take into account source of water, ideally a large waterwww.harvestfestivals.net provides differences in quality between your butt connected to a downpipe as well asplenty of examples. Many schools use produce and that available elsewhere, or a tap.Harvest Festival to focus attention upon other unique selling points (parental ● What conditions do the plants need?problems in the wider world, and to pride, perhaps) which might enable you This can involve research work as part ofincrease children’s awareness of the to charge premium prices. Science or Geography. Most food cropsinequality in the distribution of the require sunshine for at least some of the ● Costs and profits. Costs are difficult toworld’s resources. day, and an area in full sun will be most calculate for school gardens – what doMaking the most of your crops you include for labour when all yourFundraising workers have been free? To keep things One way to raise money for next year’s simple you could just look at materialsseeds and equipment is by holding your costs such as seed, pots, compost, etc.own School Farmer’s Market. Link this to Or you could keep track of time spent inbusiness and enterprise learning for pupils: the garden and allow an appropriate● How will the event be advertised? As ‘wage’ in your calculations. well as posters and letters to parents, Consuming contact your local newspaper and Instead of selling your crop, you might radio station. want to use it for cooking in school. Discuss● How can the products be marketed? with your kitchen manager whether it Selling points might be that your would be possible to use it for school meals produce is locally grown (zero food for a short period. You might even decide miles!) or organically grown – but make to grow crops next year specially to be used sure you don’t make inaccurate claims. in the kitchen. Again, this can be a good Pupils could look at commercial opportunity to get local press coverage, as food sellers to see how they it ties in with current debates about food advertise products. miles and healthy eating.● Jobs and business organisation – divide up jobs such as marketing, sales or accounting between different pupils. This could link into investigations of jobs in real companies.A YEAR OF FOOD IN YOUR SCHOOL GROUNDS
  3. 3. flexible – you can always create shade groundnotes • SEPTEMBER 2007 for plants that need it, but you can’t create sun. Many plants grow best away from strong winds. Rich, loamy soil will be ideal for most plants, but if you don’t have that, you can improve your soil with compost or manure, or build raised beds. Most herbs need good drainage, and will grow well even if poor soil. Avoid planting too close to buildings, as this can deprive your plants of rainwater, or too close to roads, where traffic pollution might settle on plants.Preparation Once you’ve chosen your location,winter is a good time to build any paths orraised beds you need; put in place anybenches or greenhouses you want; and digthe beds ready for planting. If you haveheavy clay soil, digging early in the winteris a good idea, as any frosts will help breakdown the soil. If the necessary work isunsuitable for the age of your pupils,appeal to parents for volunteers. You mightalso get help from local companies, whoare often looking for opportunities for theirstaff to spend a day at a school helping in apractical way. Companies whose staffusually sit at desks all day seem most keen when they are harvested! Growing unusual Summer: growing timeon helping out in this way. varieties which are unavailable in the shops can be a strong selling point when youSpring: planting time market your crops, or you could carry out Tending Throughout the summer, crops need toChoosing taste-tests of the different types to see be tended. Weeding, pest control and By the time spring starts, you’ll need to which are preferred. watering all take time, particularly if donehave chosen what to grow in the new organically. Share the work out by settingseason – browsing the seed catalogues is a Planting up a rota, and organise volunteers to helpgood job for when the winter weather is The actual planting of seeds provides during school holidays. Challenge pupils totoo off-putting for work outside. Pupils lots of links to Maths, especially measuring invent clever methods of pest control – forcould research the conditions needed for and counting. How deep should the seeds example, plastic bottles can be cut down todifferent plants using gardening books or go? How far apart? How many seeds have act as mini-cloches, protecting youngthe internet, and carry out market research been sown to a row? Keeping a careful plants from slugs. Have a competition toto see what people would like to eat or buy. count of how many seeds you sow (easier design a bird scarer if the blackbirds eatAs well as normal-looking varieties, why not when the seeds aren’t too small!) allows more of your fruit than you do.plant stripy tomatoes, or purple carrots, or you to monitor progress by calculatingblue potatoes – bound to be talking points success rates or drawing graphs to show Harvesting which seeds flourished best. By the summer, the first of your crops Growing from seed also links into might be ready for harvesting, particularly Science learning about life processes, from if you have access to a greenhouse. You the simplest level of knowing what could celebrate with a picnic, perhaps as conditions seeds need to grow, to part of your National School Grounds Week sophisticated experiments looking at activities in June. different growing conditions. For example, you could have two food gardens with the same crops, one grown organically and one using chemical fertilisers (taking care with safety), so that you can then compare the crops. Keep track of what you’ve sown by making labels. These can be as simple as writing with a waterproof pen or pencil on plastic labels that can be bought from garden centres, or be as creative as you like. Set an Art or Design project creating decorative labels. Clay labels can be inscribed with plant names while wet. Thin metal can be painted with enamel paint or even nail varnish, or press with a pointed implement to write indented names. A YEAR OF FOOD IN YOUR SCHOOL GROUNDS
  4. 4. groundnotes • SEPTEMBER 2007 Some of the questions most frequentlyPractical know-how asked include: This Groundnotes has touched on someof the practical aspects of growing food, We don’t have any open ground tobut it cannot cover every question. Most plant in – what can we do?food growing is quite straight-forward, but As well as bought pots, all sorts ofif you are not a confident gardener, you can containers can be recycled for growingprobably find help among staff, parents or plants in. Tyres are a popular choice but doyour local community. Many schools clean them well with industrial strengthbenefit from a volunteer who helps with detergent and preferably a power washer,the school garden, and increasing numbers and make sure there are no wires pokingare seeing the benefits of employing out. You can paint them to make themsomeone specifically to work with children more decorative: masonry paint mixedin the garden. with leftover emulsion for colour is If you still can’t find a local expert, then reasonably durable. Potatoes grow well indon’t worry. There are plenty of gardening dustbins, which can also be painted.books, magazines and internet sites with Strawberries, cherry tomatoes, herbsadvice at all levels to help you. and other small plants can be successfullySchoolgrounds-UK members can also call grown in hanging baskets, but you willthe advice line on 01962 845811 or email need to keep them well watered.member@ltl.org.uk with any questions. We’ve built large raised beds – should we fill them with compost? Compost alone will tend to compact over time, so you will need to keep topping it up. It is better to use a mixture of topsoil and compost. Save money and create good drainage by filling the bottom third of deep raised beds with rubble – unless you’re planting root crops of course! We don’t have anyone to water the plants during the summer holidays! If you really can’t get any volunteers, you could consider installing an automatic watering system, but these can be quite expensive, and will need your garden to be © This resource was originally fairly close to a tap. It is cheaper to first try created as part of the Schoolgrounds-UK appealing to a larger audience for membership scheme from the volunteers by leafleting neighbouring national school grounds charity houses to see if anyone can help. Will the Learning through Landscapes school be used by any groups over the operating in Scotland as summer who could do a little watering in Grounds for Learning exchange for using the school’s facilities? A registered charity (No. 803270) Perhaps your local paper would feature an To find out more about appeal. Your volunteers could be rewarded membership call 01962 845811 with any crops which ripen at this time. or visit www.ltl.org.ukA YEAR OF FOOD IN YOUR SCHOOL GROUNDS